The third general instrument of Holy Living; or the Practice
of the Presence of God.
That God is present in all places, that he sees
every action, hears all discourses and understands every thought, is no strange
thing to a Christian ear who hath been taught this doctrine, not only by right
reason and the consent of all the wise men in the world, but also by God
himself in holy Scripture. `Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God
afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith
the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?' `Neither is there any creature that
is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and open to the eyes of
him with whom we have to do.' "For in him
we live and move and have our being.' God
is wholly in every place; included in no place; not bound with cords, except
those of love; not divided into parts, nor changeable into several shapes;
filling heaven and earth with his present power and with his never absent
nature. So St. Augustine expresses this
article. So that we may imagine God to be as the air and the sea, and we all
enclosed in his circle, wrapped up in the lap of his infinite nature; or as
infants in the wombs of their pregnant mothers: and we can no more be removed
from the presence of God than from our own being.
The presence of God is understood by us in
several manners, and to several purposes.
1. God is present by his essence; which, because
it is infinite, cannot be contained within the limits of any place; and,
because he is of an essential purity and spiritual nature, he cannot be
undervalued by being supposed present in the places of unnatural uncleanness;
because as the sun, reflecting upon the mud of strands and shores, is
unpolluted in its beams, so is God not dishonoured when we suppose him in every
of his creatures, and in every part of every one of them; and is still as
unmixed with any unhandsome adherence as is the soul in the bowels of the
2. God is everywhere present by his power. He rolls the orbs of heaven with his hands;
he fixes the earth with his foot; he guides all the creatures with his eye, and
refreshes them with his influence: he makes the powers of hell to shake with
his terrors, and binds the devils with his word, and throws them out with his
command, and sends the angels on embassies with his decrees: he hardens the
joints of infants, and confirms the bones, when they are fashioned beneath
secretly in the earth. he it is that assists at the numerous productions of
fishes; and there is not one hollowness in the bottom of the sea, but he shows
himself to be Lord of it by sustaining there the creatures that come to dwell
in it: and in the wilderness, the bittern and the stork, the dragon and the
satyr, the unicorn and the elk, live upon his provisions, and revere his power,
and feel the force of his almightiness.
3. God is more specially present, in some places,
but the several and more special manifestations of himself to extraordinary
purposes. First, by glory. Thus, his seat is in heaven, because there he sits
encircled with all the outward demonstrations of his glory, which he is pleased
to show to all the inhabitants of those his inward and secret courts. And thus
they that `die in the Lord, may be properly said to be `gone to God;' with whom
although they were before, yet now they enter into his courts, into the secret
of his tabernacle, into the retinue and splendour of his glory. That is called
walking with God, but this is dwelling or being with him. `I desire to be
dissolved and to be with Christ;' so said St. Paul. But this manner of Divine
Presence is reserved for the elect people of God, and for their portion in
4. God is, by grace and benediction, specially
present in holy places, and in the solemn
assemblies of his servants. If holy people meet in grots and dens of the earth
when persecution or a public necessity disturbs the public order, circumstance,
and convenience, God fails not to come thither to them; but God is also, by the
same or a greater reason, present there where they meet ordinarily by order and
public authority; there God is present ordinarily, that is, at every such
meeting. God will go out of his way to meet his saints when themselves are
forced out of their way of order by a sad necessity; but else, God's usual way
is to be present in those places where his servants are appointed ordinarily to meet. But his presence there signifies
nothing but a readiness to hear their prayers, to bless their persons, to
accept their offices, and to like even the circumstance of orderly and public
meeting. For thither the prayers of consecration, the public authority
separating it, and God's love of order, and the reasonable customs of religion,
have in ordinary, and in a certain degree, fixed this manner of his presence,
and he loves to have it so.
5. God is especially present in the hearts of his
people by his Holy Spirit; and indeed the hearts of holy men are temples in the
truth of things, and, in type and shadow, they are heaven itself. For God
reigns in the hearts of his servants; there is his kingdom. The power of grace
hath subdued all his enemies: there is his power. They serve him night and day,
and give him thanks and praise; that is his glory. This is the religion and
worship of God in the temple. The temple itself is the heart of man; Christ is
the high-priest, who from thence sends up the incense of prayers, and joins
them to his own intercession, and presents all together to his Father; and the
Holy Ghost, by his dwelling there, hath also consecrated it into a temple; and God dwells in our hearts by faith and
Christ by his Spirit, and the Spirit by his purities: so that we are also
cabinets of the mysterious Trinity; and what is this short of heaven itself,
but as infancy is short of manhood, and letters of words? The same state of
life it is, but not the same age. It is heaven in a looking-glass, dark, but
yet true, representing the beauties of the soul, and the graces of God, and the
images of his eternal glory, by the reality of a special presence.
6. God is especially present in the consciences
of all persons, good and bad, by way of testimony and judgment; that is, he is
there a remembrance to call our actions to mind, a witness to bring them to
judgment, and a judge to acquit or to condemn. And although this manner of
presence is, in this life, after the manner of this life, that is imperfect,
and we forget many actions of our lives; yet the greatest changes of our state
of grace or sin, our most considerable actions, are always present, like
capital letters to an aged and dim eye; and, at the day of judgment, God shall
draw aside the cloud, and manifest this manner of his presence more
notoriously, and make it appear that he was an observer of our very thoughts,
and that he only laid those things by which, because we covered with dust and
negligence, were not then discerned. But when we are risen from our dust and
imperfection they all appear plain and legible.
Now the consideration of this great truth is of a
very universal use in the whole course of the life of a Christian. All the
consequents and effects of it are universal. He that remembers that God stands
a witness and a judge, beholding every secresy, besides his impiety, must have
put on impudence, if he be not much restrained in his temptation to sin. "For
the greatest part of sin is taken away, if
a man have a witness of his conversation: and he is a great despiser of God who
sends a boy away when he is going to commit fornication, and yet will dare to
do it, though he knows God is present, and cannot be sent off; as if the eye of
a little boy were more awful than the all-seeing eye of God. He is to be feared
in public; he is to be feared in private: if you go forth, he spies you; if you
go in, he sees you: when you light the candle, he observes you; when you put it
out, then also God marks you. Be sure, that while you are in his sight, you
behave yourself as becomes so holy a presence." But if you will sin, retire
yourself wisely, and go where God cannot see, for nowhere else can you be safe.
And certainly, if men would always actually consider, and really esteem this
truth, that God is the great eye of the world, always watching over our
actions, and an ever-open ear to hear all our words, and an unwearied arm ever
lifted up to crush a sinner into ruin, it would be the readiest way in the
world to make sin to cease from amongst the children of men, and for men to
approach to the blessed estate of the saints in heaven, who cannot sin, for
they always walk in the presence and behold the face of God. This instrument is
to be reduced to practice, according to the following rules.
1. Let this actual thought often return, that
God is omnipresent, filling every place; and say with David, "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, or whither shall I
flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make
my bed in hell, thou art there," etc. This thought, by being frequent, will
make an habitual dread and reverence towards God, and fear in all thy actions.
For it is a great necessity and engagement to do unblamably when we act before
the Judge, who is infallible in his
sentence, all-knowing in his information, severe in his anger, powerful in his
providence, and intolerable in his wrath and indignation.
2. In the beginning of actions of religion, make
an act of adoration, that is, solemnly worship God, and place thyself in God's
presence, and behold him with the eye of faith; and let thy desires actually
fix on him as the object of thy worship, and the reason of thy hope, and the
fountain of thy blessing. For when thou hast placed thyself before him, and
kneelest in his presence, it is most likely all the following parts of thy
devotion will be answerable to the wisdom of such an apprehension, and the
glory of such a presence.
3. Let everything you see represent to your
spirit the presence, the excellency, and the power of God; and let your
conversation with the creatures lead you unto the Creator; for so shall your
actions be done more frequently, with an actual eye to God's presence, by your
often seeing him in the glass of the creation. In the face of the sun you may
see God's beauty; in the fire you may feel his heat warming; in the water, his
gentleness to refresh you: he it is that comforts your spirit when you have
taken cordials; it is the dew of heaven that makes your field give you bread;
and the breasts of God are the bottles that minister drink to your necessities.
This philosophy, which is obvious to every man's experience, is a good
advantage to our piety; and, by this act of understanding, our wills are
checked from violence and misdemeanour.
4. In your retirement, make frequent colloquies,
or short discoursings, between God and thy soul. Seven times a-day do I praise
thee: and in the night season also I thought upon thee, while I was waking. So
did David; and every act of complaint or thanksgiving, every act of rejoicing
or of mourning, every petition and every return of the heart in these
intercourses, is a going to God, an appearing in his presence, and a
representing him present to thy spirit and to thy necessity. And this was long
since by a spiritual person called, "a building to God a chapel in our heart."
It reconciles Martha's employment with Mary's devotion, charity and religion,
the necessities of our calling, and the employments of devotion. For thus, in
the midst of the works of your trade, you may retire into your chapel, your
heart, and converse with God by frequent addresses and returns.
5. Represent and offer to God acts of love and
fear, which are the proper effects of this apprehension, and the proper
exercise of this consideration. For, as God is everywhere present by his power,
he calls for reverence and godly fear; as he is present to thee in all thy
needs, and relieves them, he deserves thy love; and since, in every accident of
our lives, we find one or other of these apparent, and in most things we see
both, it is a proper and proportionate return, that, to every such
demonstration of God, we express ourselves sensible of it by admiring the
Divine goodness, or trembling at his presence; ever obeying him because we love
him, and ever obeying him because we fear to offend him. This is that which
Enoch did, who thus `walked with God.'
6. Let us remember that God is in us, and that we
are in him: we are his workmanship, let us not deface it; we are in his
presence, let us not pollute it by unholy and impure actions. God hath `also
wrought all our works in us:' and because
he rejoices in his own works, if we defile them, and make them unpleasant to
him, we walk perversely with God, and he will walk crookedly towards us.
7. `God is in the bowels of thy brother;' refresh
them, when he needs it, and then you give your alms in the presence of God, and
to God; and he feels the relief which thou providest for thy brother.
8. God is in every place; suppose it, therefore,
to be a church: and that decency of deportment and piety of carriage, which you
are taught by religion, or by custom, or by civility and public manners, to use
in churches, the same use in all places; with this difference only, that in
churches let your deportment be religious in external forms and circumstances
also; but there and everywhere let it be religious in abstaining from spiritual
indecencies, and in readiness to do good actions, that it may not be said of
us, as God once complained of his people, `Why hath my beloved done wickedness
in my house?'
9. God is in every creature: be cruel towards
none, neither abuse any by intemperance. Remember, that the creatures and every
member of thy own body, is one of the lesser cabinets and receptacles of God.
They are such which God hath blessed with his presence, hallowed by his touch,
and separated from unholy use, by making them to belong to his dwelling.
10. He walks as in the presence of God that
converses with him in frequent prayer and frequent communion; that runs to him
in all his necessities; that asks counsel of him in all his doubtings; that
opens all his wants to him; that weeps before him for his sins; that asks
remedy and support for his weakness; that fears him as a judge; reverences him
as a lord; obeys him as a father; and loves him as a patron.
The benefits of this consideration and
exercise being universal upon all the parts of piety, I shall less need to
specify any particulars; but yet, most properly, this exercise of considering
the Divine presence is, 1. An excellent help to prayer, producing in us
reverence and awfulness to the Divine Majesty of God, and actual devotion in
our offices. 2. It produces a confidence in God and fearlessness of our
enemies, patience in trouble and hope of remedy; since God is so nigh in all
our sad accidents, he is a disposer of the hearts of men and the events of
things, he proportions out our trials, and supplies us with remedy, and, where
his rod strikes us, his staff supports us. To which we may add this, that God,
who is always with us, is especially, by promise, with us in tribulation, to
turn the misery into a mercy, and that our greatest trouble may become our
advantage, by entitling us to a new manner of the Divine presence. 3. If is apt
to produce joy and rejoicing in God, we being more apt to delight in the
partners and witnesses of our conversation, every degree of mutual abiding and
conversing being a relation and an endearment: we are of the same household
with God; he is with us in our natural actions, to preserve us; in our
recreations, to restrain us; in our public actions, to applaud or reprove us;
in our private, to observe us; in our sleeps, to watch by us; in our watchings,
to refresh us; and if we walk with God in all his ways, as he walks with us in
all ours, we shall find perpetual reasons to enable us to keep that rule of
God, `Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.' And this put me in
mind of a saying of an old religious person, "There is one way of overcoming our ghostly enemies;
spiritual mirth, and a perpetual bearing of God in our minds." This effectively
resists the devil, and suffers us to receive no hurt from him. 4. This exercise
is apt also to enkindle holy desires of the enjoyment of God, because it
produces joy when we do enjoy him; the same desires that a weak man hath for a
defender; the sick man for a physician; the poor for a patron; the child for
his father; the espoused lover for her betroths. 5. From the same fountain are
apt to issue humility of spirit, apprehensions of our great distance and our
great needs, our daily wants and hourly supplies, admiration of God's
unspeakable mercies: it is the cause of great modesty and decency in our
actions; it helps to recollection of mind, and restrains the scatterings and
looseness of wandering thoughts; it establishes the heart in good purposes, and
leadeth on to perseverance; it gains purity and perfection, (according to the
saying of God to Abraham, `walk before me and be perfect,') holy fear, and holy
love, and indeed everything that pertains to holy living: when we see ourselves
placed in the eye of God, who sets us on work and will reward us plenteously,
to serve him with an eye-service is very unpleasing, for he also sees the
heart; and the want of this consideration was declared to be the cause why
Israel sinned so grievously, `for they say, The Lord hath forsaken the earth,
and the Lord seeth not: therefore the land
is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness.' What a child would do in
the eye of his father, and a pupil before his tutor, and a wife in the presence
of her husband, and a servant in the sight of his master, let us always do the
same, for we are made a spectacle to God, to angels, and to men; we are always
in the sight and presence of the all-seeing and almighty God, who also is to us
a father and a guardian, a husband and a lord.
 Jer. xxiii. 23, 24.
 Heb. iv. 13.
 Acts xvii. 28.
 feos periecei tg
zoulhdee to tag, retxwgn tou tomtoz wspeg ouaib, outws csixig. Resp. ad
 Mat. xviii. 20. Heb. x. 25
 1 Kings, v. 9. Psalm cxxxviii. 1,2.
 1 Cor. iii. 16. 2Cor. vi. 16.
 S. Aug. de verbis Dominicis. c. iii.
 Psal. xiii. 7,8.
 Boeth. 1. v. de Consol.
 Isa. xxvi. 12.
 Jer. xi. 15, secun. vulg. edit.
 In vita S. Anthon.
 Psal. x. 11. Ezek. ix.9.